F E A T U R E S S T O R Y
ends and small beginnings
PORTRAIT: Paul Hutchinson, as he sometimes sees himself.
MALLOCH/The Daily News
Paul Hutchinson is having his first exhibition in New
Plymouth in years. He talks to ROBYN McLEAN about his art and his demons.
floods into Paul Hutchinson's Puniho studio as he lifts a large, unfinished
painting on to his easel.
the corner his wife stands naked with her hands on her hips and a bemused
look on her face. From the canvas, her eyes watch his every move.
the far end of the studio an old wooden chair with faded floral fabric
waits for Paul's next "sitter". Paul is particularly passionate about painting
portraits and it is here that people sit for hours on end while he captures
their essence in his brush strokes.
name Paul Hutchinson is well known to those familiar with the Taranaki
art scene. Married to eccentric artist and Virtual TART webmistress Dale
Copeland, they, along with daughter Toby (13), lead a seemingly idyllic
life at their tranquil coastal property, just south of Okato. However,
three years ago, Paul would have described his life as being far from idyllic.
His paintings weren't getting much recognition and he began to feel disillusioned,
as if his life was on a downward spiral.
got really, really, really depressed and I couldn't see the point in painting
anymore. I was having rejection after rejection."
depression was so serious that he threw down his paint brushes and "gave
his head bowed and eyes fixed on the dusty floor boards, he says he nearly
quit completely. But after two years of not painting, he decided he missed
it and found himself picking up his brushes once more. "I was frightened
to start again because I thought I might be setting myself up for failure,
but getting this place inspired me."
place" is Paul's new studio. Located in the back garden, the white wooden
building was once the Inglewood scout hall.
years Paul had a makeshift studio inside the house, which he shared with
Dale. "But she had so much stuff she was taking over the whole house. It
was causing friction between us." They both agreed if Paul was going to
return to work, he needed his own space. They were thinking of building
a small room when they heard the hall was for sale.
soon as he laid eyes on it Paul knew it was perfect for his needs, but
doubted he'd ever be able to secure it. "We had to put in a tender. We
put in a ridiculous one and amazingly it was accepted."
the middle of the night the studio was put on the back of a truck and relocated
to a field of knee-length grass behind the wooden cottage they call home.
model arrives and takes her place in the wooden chair. He started painting
her a few weeks earlier and after the long break seems unsure of how to
get going again. Pulling a face he stands back from the canvas and sighs.
He glances at the model and then back to the canvas. Nervously he runs
his hands through his wild grey hair.
looks back at him and then casts her eye around the room. Staring back
at her is not only his naked wife, but also numerous versions of the man
himself: Paul flossing his teeth, Paul holding a piece of bubble wrap in
front of his body, Paul hanging upside down. The sitter shifts her body,
seemingly turning away from the pairs of eyes gazing at her.
is noted for his self-portraits. "Using yourself as a model is easy because
there's no self-consciousness about it. You have total freedom to do what
you want and not have to worry about what another person will think."
in Yorkshire 42 years ago, Paul Hutchinson still retains a hint of an English
he was four his family moved to Vancouver Island in Canada. It was here
that Paul discovered his love of painting. "I used to watch my father painting
with watercolours. Later he taught me to paint and I started to make up
never went to art school and says he is proud of the fact that he is self-taught.
1974, the then 16-year-old moved to New Plymouth with his family. "I thought
it was a terrible place at first. We arrived during a Taranaki downpour,
so for the first couple of weeks it was really wet."
took a long time for Paul to adjust to his new homeland. Painting was still
a passion, but instead of painting his new surroundings, his canvases were
filled with imaginary English countrysides.
a grey-and-white bearded collie, enters the studio and makes her way to
a large leather beanbag in the centre of the room.
loves having people around," says Paul as he selects another paint brush
from a glass jar.
says he never thought it would be possible to paint fulltime. "All I knew
was I wanted to use my hands. I tried to get watchmaker's apprenticeships
and jeweller's apprenticeships. I ended up at polytech doing an architecture
and draughting course."
to fit in and make friends, Paul dropped out. "I was pretty disturbed,
really. I wasn't very social; I didn't make any friends until I was in
brief involvement in the religious cult Children of God forced Paul to
take a closer look at his life. "I broke free from them and decided what
I really wanted was to be an artist."
at home with the support of his parents, he started work.
if he remembers the first painting he sold, an enchanting smile creeps
across his face, revealing a perfect set of white (well-flossed) teeth.
sold it to a craft shop in Fitzroy. It was a weird one. I had just read
Lord of the Rings and was in a fantasy painting phase. It showed a glowing
ball in some hands. I got my mother to pose for the hands. She was holding
one of those pyrex bowls. It sold, but I don't know where it is now and
I'd hate to see it!"
was around this time that Paul started to socialise with other people involved
in the Taranaki art scene. He received encouragement and support from people
such as Don Driver, Michael Smither and Tom Kreisler.
Smither probably gave me the most help and had the most influence over
said his involvement with the Taranaki Artists Co-Operative (TACO) played
an important part in his development as an artist. "By forming a co-operative
we could help each other promote our art. There was still a fair bit of
was through TACO that Paul met Dale, who is 14 years his senior. "The age
difference was a big deal at the time, but it's not such an unusual thing
was the first person I could talk to; we used to talk for hours. When we
found she was pregnant it was great. Looking back it was the happiest time
of my life so far."
they first met, Dale was still working as a teacher but she later quit
so she, too, could become a fulltime artist.
might think two artists living under the same roof would be creative hell,
but Paul says it has worked well.
think it would be really hard if we both worked in the same style." But,
as it happens, their styles couldn't be more extreme. Dale is an assemblage
artist, turning junk into art, while Paul sticks mainly to paint.
Paul does struggle with, however, is the fact that Dale, who wasn't a serious
artist when he met her, has achieved a lot of recognition in a short space
of time. "She's had more success in terms of getting exhibitions and getting
taken seriously as an artist."
things seem to be on the up for softly-spoken Paul. He is currently showing
an exhibition at Kina, on Devon St. Aptly titled Loose Ends and Small Beginnings,
it is his first New Plymouth exhibition for a number of years.
the hours tick by, the model appears to get restless. Uncurling her legs
from beneath her, she asks if she can stretch out for a minute. Paul apologises,
saying he often loses track of time when he paints.
a few minutes the model settles back into the chair as Paul begins mixing
his work to art galleries is something Paul finds difficult. "I'm not pushy
enough. I don't have the self-confidence. The artists that are successful
are the ones that are good at public relations."
says while he would love more recognition, he doubts he will get it in
his lifetime, though the new show has obviously boosted his confidence
and rekindled his passion for painting. "I love painting. I believe that
painting has something to say, especially in this computer age where everything
is digitised. I want people to appreciate the stillness of paintings. I
know when I have been on the computer for ages and then look at a painting,
it is like balm to your eyes."
the afternoon sun sinks into the nearby Tasman, Paul suggests to the model
they finish for the day.
quite pleased with it. Do you want to have a look?" he says, as he puts
his brush down.
the corner, Dale remains still naked, still with her hands on her hips.
She'll remain there through the night, and will be there to greet him in
the morning, forever captured in time on the linen canvas. *
Loose Ends and Small Beginnings is at Kina until the end of July.